Comelec open to amending rules for campaign
MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the poll body will amend its rules and regulations for the upcoming election campaign as contained in Resolution 9615.
Brillantes said the poll body will come out with a resolution amending parts of 9615 before the start of the campaign period for national positions on February 12.
He said there will be no major amendments but they may amend the rule on airtime limits based on technical considerations and revoke the right of reply provision altogether.
The Comelec will have a special en banc session after the public hearing today, which was called based on separate letters filed by the Kapisanan ng Mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas and GMA Network Inc.
Today's public hearing saw the commissioners posing questions about their appeals to the legal representatives of the 2 parties. GMA Network lawyer Roberto Lucila first gave his arguments followed by KBP lawyer Rudolph Jularbal.
The two argued against the aggregate airtime limits of 120 minutes for tv, 180 minutes for radio for national candidates, and 60 minutes for tv and 90 minutes for radio for local candidates, the imposition of a requirement of the Comelec's prior consent before the guestings of candidates, the imposition of a right of reply provision, and the color motifs.
Lucila stressed the right of the public to know their candidates, saying an aggregate airtime limit would deprive voters of this chance to know candidates.
He said that based on their computations, the 120 minutes allocated per candidate for tv ads would result in each candidate just getting some 81.81 seconds of ad spots per day for the duration of the 88-day campaign period.
Divided among ABS-CBN, GMA and TV5, that would mean an individual ad spot of just 27.27 seconds a day per network.
If each spot is limited to just 10 seconds, then that means each candidate will just get 2.7 spots per day in each of the 3 networks. Lucila said this is not providing candidates with efficient access.
Brillantes, however, noted that the candidates are not complaining over the limited airtime.
Basis for changing the rules
Lucila asked the Comelec for its basis for changing the rules imposed in the 2010, 2007, and 2004 elections, which reckoned the airtime limits on a per network basis.
Brillantes said it is the Comelec's prerogative to change the rules as granted by the Constitution, to limit abuses.
Asked by Brillantes if there was an abuse of political advertising in 2010, Lucila said there was none.
Brillantes said local media will benefit from political advertising when the local campaign begins.
Lucila also raised the criminal liability of networks on airtime limits, stressing networks have to know how to ensure that a candidate is within the limits as they don't have access to monitor how much he has with other networks.
Brillantes then suggested that in advertising contracts, networks ask candidates to swear that they have not gone beyond the airtime limits. He said this way, networks escape liabilities.
Lucila however said that suggestion should be put in the resolution instead.
Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, chief of the campaign finance unit, said that based on internal memoranda of ABS-CBN and GMA in 2010, the networks were able to check their own compliance with airtime limits. "No criminal liability. You’re responsibility is submit broadcast logs. We are not asking you to do more,” he said.
Lim said this is the first time the poll body is enforcing campaign finance laws.
Jularbal noted that no station is heard nationwide and that simultaneous broadcasts are carried by other stations.
He said this may lead to duplicate counts of airtime limits. "Aggregation of airtime limits wouldn't be practical for purposes of monitoring and in addition … on a per station basis, each station knows whether they're exceeding airtime limits."
Brillantes said that if the broadcast is simultaneous, then it's just counted once. If it is replayed, then it is counted twice.
Jularbal noted that the carriage of programs is always on a per station basis.
Brillantes clarified that if an ad is aired simultaneously on both tv and radio, then it is charged to the airtime limits for both platform.
At one point, the Comelec chief also got exasperated and confused over the technicalities of the broadcast medium.
Brillantes told Jularbal to leave it to the candidates how they will spend their airtime limits. He said candidates also have airtime from their parties.
Jularbal also rebuffed a claim in a book quoted by former broadcaster turned Commissioner Grace Padaca. The book said a network in 2010 offered to do a package of slanted reports for a candidate in exchange for a fee.
"We don't know of any network (that does that). These are just insinuations,” the lawyer said.
Padaca noted that advertising revenues from political ads are highly expected by employees in small media companies. She said she warned her colleagues of a backlash from the media. She noted the ads would have been a good way to cleanse media of being paid hacks.
Jularbal, however, noted that during elections, everyone makes money. However, for the broadcast networks, it also means losing money from non-political advertisers.
"Broadcast industry earns during elections that's why there is 20% discount…during the election period we lose revenues from regular ads that pull out to avoid clutter," he said.
The Comelec chairman also reiterated that they have amended the resolution regarding the prior consent requirement for tv and radio guestings.
He said commissioners decided to amend the resolution to mean prior notice for purposes of monitoring.
Brillantes clarified this only applies to public affairs shows where guests are booked days in advance. He said they merely want the networks to help them monitor.
Jularbal said some provisions of the campaign rules border on unconstitutionality like the rule on prior consent.
Brillantes, however, stressed it is just a monitoring mechanism. "FYI lang yan. Ayaw mo pa rin? Freedom of expression covers bonafide news and interviews. Freedom of expression is not absolute. Notice lang ayaw mo pa?"
Jularbal said the rules are confusing because of the way they were written.
With regard to the right of reply, Lucila asked the poll body how it plans to implement it.
Brillantes said networks will face both criminal and administrative liabilities, like the revocation of their franchise, if they disobey the Comelec's order to air a reply.
He, however, gave an assurance that initially, invocations of the right of reply will be endorsed to the network only after the poll body has studied the circumstances and if the invocation is justified.
“Titignan namin kung maganda comment niyo. We can recommend cancellation of your franchise,” he said.
Jularbal said the right of reply rule is unconstitutional. However, Brillantes said the Constitution gives Comelec the right to impose a right of reply rule during election periods.